The Worrisome Victory
On February 3, 2011, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik declared, “The Police have done well, not only in maintaining law and order but also in containing the Left Wing Extremist [LWE] problem that has posed a threat to the internal security of the country. There has been a distinct improvement in the situation with a decline in quantum of Left Wing Extremist violence in 2010 in comparison to 2009.” He added, further, “During the last three months alone, the SFs (Special Forces) have conducted as many as 214 special operations and have achieved considerable success. As many as 91 Maoists have been arrested, 24 Maoists have died in Police action and 54 weapons have been recovered. I understand that the coordination between State Police and Central Forces deployed in the state has improved, which will further strengthen anti-Naxalite operations.”
But as I write this in the evening of February 24, the same Patnaik must be a beleaguered man. One of his young but highly popular collectors, an IAS officer, continues to be a hostage by the Maoists, whose chosen negotiators from the neighbouring Andhra Pradesh to drive maximum concessions from the state government have even been embarrassed by the shifting stands of the abductors after the release of the other hostage, a junior engineer. By the time this publication reaches the readers, the collector may have been freed, with Patnaik succumbing to the new and fresh demands. It is quite probable that some of the terms and conditions associated with the state government’s surrender will not be known immediately. The information to be released for the public may be controlled. I do not intend to go into the details of the sordid episode, the cover story of the week; the readers may read our other contributors for getting the picture in totality. I would like to highlight some broad parameters.
The Maoists may have released the officials safely, but the very fact that they were able to kidnap them and hold them hostages for a considerable time period underscores their victory over the state government. They achieved some important goals:
First, they managed tremendous publicity, both national and international, that they continue to be a potent force, which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh terms to be the biggest threat to India’s internal security and integrity. Let it be emphasised that publicity is the oxygen that every terrorist outfit needs for its survival. It evokes allegiance from the supporters and fear among the general public.
Secondly, the Maoists proved that contrary to its tall claims, the state government is unable to guarantee the protection of its senior officials, not to speak of the ordinary citizens. Once somebody has been made a hostage, the kidnapping is already a success. Even if a victim is only held for a short time, the kidnappers have managed to destroy the sense of security of the individual and undermine those who should have protected him. Among others, the incident exposes the inadequacies of the intelligence-gathering capacity of the state.
Thirdly, the Maoists have proved that the government is unable to rescue its citizens, which is measured by the time the kidnappers are able to keep a victim under their control. And if the state government could not conduct a rescue act, it implied that either its rescue-team was not strong enough to do so or unable to identify the location of the victims (again the proof of poor intelligence) or there was a deliberate political decision of not doing anything that could risk the lives of those kidnapped. And if it was a deliberate decision, then it meant that we continue to be a soft state which avoids any uncompromising policy of not talking to the terrorist kidnappers during a hostage crisis, something that has become the state-policy of countries such as Israel, Russia and of late the United States.
It may be argued in this context that in this age of suicide bombers when the terrorists do not care about their own lives, any rescue work risking the lives of the hostages is not worth-attempting. However, this point is not fully convincing in the case of the Maoists. They love their lives and are not as motivated like the Islamic fundamentalists (to go to heaven) and the Sri Lankan LTTE (to attain a homeland) to kill themselves. Despite their claims and that of their over-ground activists in NGOs, universities, think tanks, judiciary and media that they fight for the poor and exploited, the truth is that the Maoist leaders want to impose a political system in the country by bullets, something they cannot achieve through ballots. And these leaders are using the poor and weak in the country’s hinterland as foot soldiers. In fact, as the Orissa case proves again, it is the leaders from the neighbouring Andhra with middle class background who are controlling and leading the movement.
And what is worse, over the years, the Maoist leadership has got degenerated. It has established international links with unfriendly foreign powers in promoting arms-smuggling, drugs trafficking and secessionist movements in Kashmir and the north eastern region. Above all, Maoist leaders run an elaborate extortion network to keep the wheels of ‘revolution’ turning so much so that their organisation can rival a mid-size corporate house with an annual turnover upwards of Rs 2000 crore, 15 per cent of which is collected from Odisha alone. The Maoist fund collectors arm twist government officials and milk central and state funds for development projects. They terrorise industrialists, small businessmen, big and small contractors, tendu leaf traders and even poor villagers.
In Orissa, they routinely grab 10 per cent of government money earmarked for development and infrastructure work. In fact, a senior Orissa Police officer from the Naxalite-dominated belt recently wrote to the state government complaining about the drain of government money to Maoists. In this, he laid a considerable share of the blame on non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The Naxalites brazenly grab development funds that reach panchayats and NGOs. This also happens because many elected rural body members are complicit. They often win polls with Maoist help. Illegal mining in states such as Orissa and Jharkhand is also a rich source of revenue for the Maoists. Other than organised extortion, lower-level cadres are believed to intervene in personal and local disputes for a fee.
Coming back to the kidnapping episode, the fourth goal that the Maoists have achieved is that they have extracted concessions from the Orissa government inversely equivalent to the political value of the hostage, the collector. They have secured the release of their comrades. They have forced the government to go back-foot in its anti-Maoist drive that the chief minister was boasting about the other day. Viewed thus, collector Krishna has proved to be a highly effective tool of the Maoists in carrying out their so-called revolution in the state. Krishna’s kidnapping is a great victory for them.
Naveen Patnaik has reasons to worry. The Krishna incident is his incontrovertible, undeniable and irrefutable failure in confronting the growing Maoist menace in the state. Open source data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal, indicates that Odisha recorded a total of 108 fatalities—including 62 civilians, 25 LWE and 21 SF personnel in—44 incidents of killing in 2010, as against 81 fatalities—36 civilians, 32 SF personnel and 13 LWEs—in 37 incidents of killing in 2009. Significantly, after registering a 38.63 per cent decline in overall fatalities in 2009 as compared to 2008, fatalities surged again, by 33.33 per cent in 2010, as against the preceding year. And that is really worrisome.
By Prakash Nanda